Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Phil Griego’s fall from Roundhouse deal-maker to felon will end with the former state senator behind bars.
A district judge on Friday sentenced Griego, who was convicted last fall of fraud, bribery and other public corruption charges, to 18 months in prison and more than $47,000 in fines.
In a courtroom packed with Griego relatives and friends, District Judge Brett Loveless said he decided to impose a prison sentence after much reflection and a careful reading of New Mexico’s Constitution. Prosecutors had sought a 10-year sentence, while Griego’s attorney had requested probation and no prison time.
“It’s a sad day, because you were given such a great responsibility and trust,” Loveless said. “When people don’t have trust in their government, they feel disenfranchised … and you, quite frankly, are part of the problem.”
The former longtime lawmaker, the scion of a politically connected Santa Fe family, had asked the judge for leniency, citing his role in helping to raise a grandson and great-granddaughter, and the fact no victims had stepped forward to speak in the case.
But prosecutors described Griego as a cunning con artist who had stealthily pushed for legislation authorizing the 2014 sale of a historic state-owned building near the Roundhouse, concealed his involvement in the deal and ultimately pocketed a $50,000 commission as a real estate agent for the buyer.
“It was a calculated, well thought-out plan that played out slowly over 18 months,” Assistant Attorney General Zach Jones said during Friday’s sentencing hearing. “He chose to press on always toward his payday.”
Griego, 69, who sat stoically for much of the sentencing hearing, was not taken into custody immediately after sentencing. He will be required to report for the start of his sentence in three weeks.
“There’s nothing wrong with allowing him to say goodbye to his family,” Loveless said.
Griego, a Democrat who lives on a family ranch in rural San Miguel County, was also ordered to complete five years of supervised probation after his release from prison and to perform 1,000 hours of community service.
His attorney, Tom Clark, told the Journal that Griego could end up serving only nine months in prison under day-for-day “good time” incentives. He also said it’s likely Griego will be incarcerated at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas, which houses special units for elderly inmates and those in poor health.
Six people testified on Griego’s behalf during Friday’s sentencing, including his sister, brother-in-law, grandson and wife of 51 years. In addition, more than 80 letters of support were submitted.
Addressing the court before he was sentenced, Griego said he had brought a stain to his family’s name. But he also contended he had never used his elected office to harm anyone, saying, “I genuinely believe I am not a criminal.”
“This is not the story of my life,” Griego added. “My past is not littered with violations, but with honest effort.”
In asking for a 10-year sentence, Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office argued that doing so would deter future misconduct by New Mexico elected officials and restore trust among state residents.
But Loveless disagreed with the prosecution’s request, saying such a sentence would be more akin to “revenge” than justice.
“New Mexico has long been victimized by abuse and corruption, and we will continue to fight on behalf of all New Mexicans,” Balderas, a fellow Democrat, said in a statement after Friday’s sentencing hearing. “While we felt more accountability was in order, we respect the court’s attention to this case, as well as its authority to decide the term of incarceration.”
An Attorney General’s Office spokesman also confirmed that prosecutors still plan to proceed with separate charges against Griego – including perjury, fraud and embezzlement – for allegedly pocketing money from his campaign account and lying about it on required reports.
Griego represented a sprawling Senate district for 18-plus years before resigning in 2015 instead of facing possible disciplinary action stemming from an internal ethics investigation.
The AG’s Office filed charges in February 2016, and Griego was convicted after a three-week jury trial last fall of five of the eight public corruption counts he was facing, including four felony charges. One misdemeanor charge was dismissed by the judge before Friday’s sentencing on double jeopardy grounds. Griego was acquitted of the other three charges.
Meanwhile, roughly $26,000 of the $47,225 fine stems from legislative per diem, mileage and pension payments received by Griego. That punishment was sought under a 2012 law – never before used – that allows a judge to fine convicted public officials up to the value of their salaries and “fringe benefits.”
That law was passed by state lawmakers after public corruption cases involving two former state treasurers, the former leader of the state Senate and others. Griego, then a state senator, voted for the bill.